by John Samson
When Rodriguez walked out onto the stage in Cape Town back in 1998 to kick off his first ever SA tour, he thanked the audience for keeping him alive. And a large part of that thanks could have been directed towards Ard Mathews and Just Jinger as their cover version of the Rodriguez classic, ‘Sugarman’, was probably as important in bringing the Detroit musician to a new generation of fans as the army call up was to his first South African fans.
‘Cold Fact’, the Rodriguez album that contained ‘Sugarman’ had been around since the late 60’s early 70’s and seemed to live in the air we breathed back then. Nearly every white South African home had a copy of the album and everyone knew the song. It seemed only natural then for someone to cover it, but strangely it had to wait till the 90’s before Just Jinger plucked up the courage to take on such a revered song. And they did the right thing with their cover as it is as straight forward a cover of an original as one could get. Just about the only difference between the original and the JJ’s version is Ard’s grungey vocals compared to Rodriguez’s folky ones.
So what, you may ask, is the point of producing a cover that is pretty much the same as the original? Well, I think that the fact that Just Jinger didn’t deviate too far from the original shows their huge respect for the song and the singer as they didn’t want to mess too much with the original, seeing it as perfection in itself, so they could only imitate and not add to it. The second reason that this was an important cover was laid out in the first paragraph of this article. Just Jinger were becoming one of the biggest bands in the land and the fact that they tipped their hat to this classic song had their younger fans digging out their moms and dads CDs to check out the original.
At the time Just Jinger covered this track, there was hardly another cover of the track, let alone a cover of any other Rodriguez tracks out there (there were some and a list of pre-‘Searching For Sugar Man’ covers can be found here: http://sugarman.org/coverversions.html). Just Jinger with their excellent and timely cover of the track helped keep Rodriguez alive and well and they did so reverentially, letting the song take the limelight. This would have to go down as one of the greatest covers of an international track by an SA band.